VENICE, ITALY (03/20/2000) - While attention is focused on optical data rates and the growth in the number of mobile phone subscribers, the key to the future of telecommunications may be lying forgotten in the back office. This was the message from International Data Corp. (IDC) at the European Telecoms Forum 2000 here in Venice today.
"We don't hear so much about back-end systems, but there is a revolution taking place here that is just as dramatic, and that is the Web-enabling of back-end systems," said Mark Winther, group vice president for worldwide telecoms of IDC, speaking at the conference.
"Telcos increasingly need to interact with each other with a speed and complexity that we haven't been able to do in traditional telecoms," Winther told conference delegates. To achieve this speed, they need to automate many of their interactions, which currently involve humans.
For companies like Covad, which takes requests for broadband access from customers of U.S. ISPs (Internet service providers) and sets up a connection using copper pairs rented from a local exchange carrier, automation is vital.
At first, the process of accepting the order from the customer, qualifying it with the ISP, passing it on to the carrier and qualifying it at each stage there involved 90 pairs of hands, Winther said, adding, "There is no way this company can do it without automating it."
The key factor, he said, is that automation lowers cost.
Automation is vital at all levels in the telecom market, he said. "We need to extend all these automated business models to people who simply have a phone.
We need to teach the Web to talk."
Many companies are already building voice into the Web. Unified messaging companies are moving from a Web model to the phone, he said, and there are even audio ISPs, providing Web access through a normal phone.
The market for such services is clear, Winther said: "There are a lot of people without PCs, and there always will be, or there are people who are away from their PCs."
IDC's European Telecoms Forum 2000, in Venice, Italy, continues through tomorrow.
IDC is a subsidiary of International Data Group, the parent company of the IDG News Service.